Canadian Interest Rate Forecast

Predictions for 2019 to 2021

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Interest rate forecasts are not entirely reliable and are simply educated guesses.
  • Bank of Canada Target Rate(and Bank Prime Rate) hikes have been paused since October 2018, but when rate changes resume, some analysts expect rates will rise in response to strong economic growth while others expect a recession will pull rates down.
  • TD's Financial Stress Indicator provides interesting data but is not reliable in predicting when exactly a recession may hit.
  • Economists are having trouble predicting what mortgage rates will do in the future, but the consensus is that rates will remain unchanged for 2019 and most of 2020.

Most economists are forecasting that the Bank Rate will remain unchanged until mid-2020. Reading between the lines, Mortgage Sandbox believes these economists are reacting to economic uncertainty. In other words they figure it’s a 50/50 chance between the economy doing better or hitting a recession. The Bank Rate set by the Bank of Canada Rates is raised when the economy is doing well but if there is a recession then low rates are used to stimulate the economy. Since the economic forecasters are seeing a lot of conflicting information, they’ve split the difference and predicted everything will remain unchanged. This is also a safe bet that will avoid ruffling feathers in the run-up to a federal election.

This article will examine the forecasts for floating variable rates and 5-year fixed rates. Keep reading to learn what the big banks are saying about rates.

THE CURRENT SITUATION

The Bank Rate has been unchanged at 1.75% since October 2018 and is broadly expected to stay unchanged until November or December of 2020. On July 10th, the most recent Bank of Canada rate announcement, the governor left rates unchanged and signalled a neutral stance even though the U.S. and Europe have signalled they may cut rates to respond to weakener economic activity. The economists at National Bank are predicting the highest rate increases beginning in late 2020. Central 1 predicts rates will begin dropping in mid-2020.

Rate Forecasts Are Only Educated Guesses

No matter how well-researched and modelled an economist’s prediction is, mortgage rate forecasts are still only educated guesses and, at best, they are as accurate as a weather forecast. They further into the future that a forecast is made, the less accurate it is. Most of last year’s forecasts did, however, correctly anticipate three rate hikes, but they didn’t predict an economic cooldown that would put a pause on rate hikes.

A Shrinking Economy

The Canadian economy shrank in December and has continued to struggle since. TD’s Brian DePratto says, “developments of late suggest the risks tilt towards less growth than might have otherwise been the case." A housing slowdown in Western Canada will not help growth either.

The Housing Slowdown Dragging on the Economy

Realtors often say that housing prices will continue to skyrocket because of economic growth, but we’re looking at some drastically different results. Housing prices in cities with strong economic growth, such as Vancouver and Toronto, have recently seen some pretty substantial drops in activity, which have not been positive for the economy. Fewer homes being purchased is a direct reflection of lower revenue for realtors, mortgage brokers and banks, home inspectors and appraisers, and real estate lawyers. It can also lead to delayed condo developments and a decline in work for the trades who build these projects. Falling house prices can weaken the housing sector which hurts the economy and then leads to further house price declines. We hope that Canada is not caught in this type of economic downward spiral. The chart below illustrates how much the slowdown impacted home purchases in Metro Vancouver.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Pause in Interest Rate Increases

The Bank Rate is still below what would be considered a normal range. According to the Bank of Canada, “Governing Council continues to judge that the policy interest rate will need to rise over time into a neutral range to achieve the inflation target.” Essentially, rates will continue to rise unless there’s a recession.

Bank of Canada Neutral Bank Rate Range

2021 Forecast

There used to be consensus that interest rates would eventually rise but that is no longer the case. In the near-term, Bank Rate and Canadian Prime Rates hikes are on a pause.

Once rate changes resume, however, some analysts expect Canadian floating interest rates will rise in response to strong economic growth while others expect a recession will pull rates down.

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Why look at Bank Rate forecasts?

Variable and adjustable mortgage rates are tied to the Bank Rate (the rate at which banks can borrow from the Bank of Canada). If the Bank Rate rises then prime rates offered by Canadian banks rise, as do variable mortgage rates.

THE BANK RATE IN 2021

In the short-run predictions, all the economists are sticking together and predicting that nothing will change. This is the safest forecast to make if you think there’s a 50/50 chance of rates rising or dropping. For an economist, if you’re wrong but everyone else was wrong too, then your reputation is less tarnished than if you step outside the consensus and are proven wrong.

The current long-term forecast recently became much more interesting. Let’s just say a few economists have broken from the pack. According to National Bank, the Bank of Canada may wait until summer 2020 before ordering fresh rate hikes.” Central 1, on the other hand, expects rates to drop in the second half of 2020 “in response to Canada’s slowing growth”.

It is hard to predict a recession, but based on current information it is likely the Canadian prime rates that are used to calculate variable and adjustable mortgage rates will stay flay or drop between now and 2021. If the risk of rates rising still worries you then you should consider a fixed rate mortgage. Generally, we recommend variable rates when rates are flat or falling.

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5-YEAR GOVERNMENT BOND RATES IN 2021

In the past, most economists agreed on where rates are headed but these days their predictions appear as scientific as a coin toss. The scary part of this forecast is that dropping rates would be an appropriate response to a recession.

The average forecast would see rates rise by a very modest quarter of a percent. In this forecast, National Bank of Canada has forecast rates will be almost 1% higher going into 2021 whereas Central 1 (i.e., the economists expecting an economic slowdown) are expecting rates to be a quarter percent lower. In the case that rates are predicted to drop, this would be the appropriate response to a recession, which isn’t really news to us – the TD Canada Trust report below can tell you more about it.

Can We Predict Exactly When a Recession Will Happen?

Fears of a recession are nothing new and a recent TD Canada Trust report explores the topic. Another report from TD looks at the likelihood of a recession using their Financial Stress Indicator (FSI). As you can see, there was very little warning for the financial crisis between 2007-2008.

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The Takeaways

  1. Lock in a 5-year fixed rate?

  2. Buy a home now or wait for the next cycle?

1. Lock in a 5-Year Fixed Rate?

Future fixed rates will probably be higher than today, and are less likely to drop lower than today’s rates unless there’s a recession. So, locking in today’s 2.9% 5-year mortgage rate will definitely start benefiting you if variable rates begin climb. If you are inclined toward a fixed rate mortgage, our advice is to speak to a Mortgage Broker as early as possible to lock in a rate. You can lock in a rate up to 120 days before closing on a home sale or the renewal of your mortgage.

If you have a fair risk tolerance, variable rates seem like the best bet. Based on the latest forecasts, variable rates are more likely to fall than rise in the next two years and in a flat or falling rate environment variable rates generally save borrowers more in interest costs.

If you are planning to sell or move in the next few years, however, locking in a rate can result in a large penalty fee if you cancel before the full term is completed. Just be sure that you factor this into your decision.

2. Buy a Home Now or Wait For The Next Cycle?

If you plan to buy in the next 3 years, be mindful that rising rates reduce the amount of mortgage financing a bank can offer you. This means you have less home buying budget to work with. Home prices in many Western Canada markets have been steadily dropping since 2018, so don’t feel pressured to rush into the market and don’t pay more than the list price.

To get access to experts who know what every lender is doing, consult a mortgage broker. They have the broadest number of options to find you suitable financing.


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